Stories are powerful ways to get your message across to an audience. When told right, a story will emotionally connect with an audience, pack a large message into a few words, and make you unforgettable.
Told poorly, however, stories will bore your audience and hurt your credibility. J.D. Schramm, a lecturer in organizational behavior for Stanford Graduate School of Business, gave a compelling explanation of the 7 Secrets for Storytelling Success. His entire presentation is available here:
It’s worth watching in its entirety, but here is a summary of what he says:
For any story to be effective, it must first have some sort of conflict and resolution. The conflict should relate to the audience and be easily identifiable. In the video, Schramm sets up the conflict as, “It was every presenters worst nightmare.” Once the conflict is explained, the rest of the story should focus on the resolution. In the end, you will tie that in with your call to action. Here are his seven points:
- Parachute in; don’t preamble. While you want to give enough information that the audience understands what is going on, you don’t need to spend too much time setting up your story. The audience can glean a lot when you jump in. Visuals can also replace a lot of words. If you have a uniform or prop that helps show context, use it.
- Choose your first words carefully. These words set the tone for the rest of your story. They should be clear and captivating. Public speakers often introduce themselves when they begin speaking, but this isn’t always necessary. If the audience has been told who you are, don’t explain that again. Parachute in with a great opening line.
- Follow the Goldilocks’ Theory of details. Goldilocks was looking for the furniture that was “just right,” and that’s what this analogy means: use just the right amount of information. Again, too many details will bore your audience. Ask yourself (or others) what information is absolutely necessary to your story.
- One person, one thought. As you make eye contact, don’t blindly swipe your gaze back and forth over the audience. With each point, make eye contact with a different person or different section of your audience. Remember that the front row and far sides of a room typically receive the least amount of eye contact.
- Remember the Magic Grain Truck. Schramm uses an analogy from college. One of his professors asked his students to imagine what would happen if one grain truck could carry seven times more grain in one trip. More work would be accomplished with less time and effort. The same is true when you use imagery, pop-culture references, or create analogies. If you can use one word or phrase in place of a paragraph-worth of description, your point will be made more effectively. If you refer to another character in your story as “Lex Luthor,” most people will understand that this person is your nemesis. If you call an event the “Super Bowl of (fill in the blank),” your audience will understand the significance of that event. You can also create a “magic grain truck” in your story.
For example, I know someone whose grandparents lived in Hungary when they were young. They lived on a farm and had been saving for years to achieve their dream of moving to America. When the day finally came, they had purchased tickets to America and sold off all of their assets except one cow. Devastated, they were forced to sell their tickets, put off their dreams, and stay until they could sell the cow.
The tickets they had to sell? They were for passage aboard the Titanic.
In that story, the cow becomes the grain truck. You could tell your audience that when life doesn’t work out for them, it might just be the cow keeping them off the Titanic, and they will forever know what that means.
- Use silence. Take pause during your story, especially when making a point or when you’re at an emotional part of your tale. Also, frame unknown concepts with silence. If you’re introducing your product or company for the first time, pause before and after revealing its name.
- Know your AIM – Audience, Intent, and Message. This is actually explained early on in the lecture because you need to know your AIM before you even script your story. Understand who your audience is, what they expect from you, and what cultural references appeal to them (including work culture.) Establish the intent of your message ahead of time, as well. This will help you remove extraneous information. Finally, know your message: what channel will you use to deliver it? What structure should it have?
If you’ve done your job right, you can impact your audience even further by blending the story with the rest of your presentation. Refer back to your magic grain truck. You could even have that analogy or key phrase printed on promotional gifts – every time your clients use the item, they will remember the impact of your story. You will have made an emotional connection with them, and in turn, they will be more likely to do business with you.
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